The ORU women’s basketball team has a new look this season; new players, a different game plan and new opponents.
The Golden Eagles have six returning players, and seven new faces including freshmen and transfers.
Vicky McIntyre is a 6-foot-7-inch transfer from the University of Florida. McIntyre will bring SEC experience and talent to the middle with seniors Detti Balla and Carolina Lopez.
ORU will attack the paint more often than last year, when they relied on the outside shooting of Christian Key.
“Our strength last year was in our guard play,” said Head Coach Misti Cussen. “Our initial strength out of the gate this year will be our inside play. Detti Balla and Vicky McIntyre will be a good mainstay for us.”
The inside strength was evident in the first exhibition game against Rockhurst on Saturday. The Golden Eagles scored 42 out of their 69 points in the paint.
“We are a little bit of a different team than what we’ve had here in the past several years because we are going to crash the paint a lot,” Cussen said. “We’re going to try to win it in the paint with our guards going to the free throw line and going to the rim. That’s where our strengths lie this year and that’s who we’re working to be throughout the season.”
Six highly recruited true freshmen joined the team as well. Jordan Doyle, Esther Udoumoh, Jayden Oliver, Faith Ihim and Jordan Gilbert are all expecting to help ORU win games early. Jasauen Beard will sit out her freshman season with a torn ACL.
Five of the six incoming freshmen made the Oklahoma High School All-State Team. Doyle led Broken Arrow High School to a state championship last year. Cussen believes the new talent will improve the team from top to bottom.
“We’re going to have more bench contribution than we did last year,” Cussen said. “We’re going to play nine to 10 deep, and be successful with those nine to 10.”
The new freshmen are impacting the seniors on the team as well. Cussen said the seniors have embraced the freshmen as family.
“I love each and every one of them,” senior Balla said. “They are awesome, they’re funny and they work hard. They don’t just push each other. They push us, and we are pushing them whether it’s on the court or with schoolwork. We have a great chemistry, and it’s an awesome group.”
Doyle and Udoumoh played for Union high school, and bring a winning mentality to the ORU locker room.
“They’re really competitive, senior Atoe’ Jackson said. “Last year, we were competitive, but not as much. Just having that makes everybody go hard in practice and compete against each other.”
The Golden Eagles are making the return to the Summit League after playing the last two years in the Southland Conference.
“The knowledge of learning our Southland opponents goes out the window again,” Cussen said. “I think that’s one of the things that give this year a newness and freshness to it. Detti Balla is the only player who has faced a Summit League opponent. For everybody else, it’s going to be brand new for them.”
Both Balla and McIntyre said the Summit League focuses more on the fundamental strategy of the game, while the Southland Conference was more about athleticism.
The last time ORU switched conferences, they won the league championship the first season. The mentality is no different this time around.
“It’s all going to start over at 0-0 when we get to [conference play],” Cussen said. “I really believe we can finish in the top two or three in this conference, and I think by the time we get to conference tournament, we’ve got a chance of representing ORU in the NCAA tournament again.